Mosquitoes in the News: The Zika Virus

By: Patricia Hottel, Technical Director, McCloud Services

Although we tend to fear sharks and snakes, mosquitoes are considered the most dangerous animal in the world. Their threat is not from their deadly bite but from the disease organisms they can vector. One disease, malaria accounts for close to half a million deaths each year and ten percent of the world’s population gets sick due to malaria each year. Health officials having been monitoring the spread of potential new mosquito borne diseases into the United States with concerns for chikungunya, dengue and now the Zika virus making the news. Mosquito control programs aimed at monitoring and prevention are an essential part of the fight against these diseases.

How is Zika virus transmitted?
Zika virus is spread through the bite of an infected Aedes genus of mosquitoes, which is the same mosquito species that carries dengue fever and chikungunya. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are the primary carriers, but Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, might also transmit the virus. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Symptoms typically disappear in several days to a week and hospitalization is rare.

Where is Zika virus found?
The growing pandemic is currently present in South and Central America. The Center for Disease Control has posted warnings regarding travel to these areas. There have been reports of Zika virus cases in Illinois, Florida, Texas, New York and more, but all of the individuals obtained the disease while traveling to countries where Zika virus is endemic.

What are the chances of an outbreak in the United States?
So far, all human cases reported in the U.S. have resulted from travel abroad. It is difficult to speculate whether the disease will be an issue in the United States at this point. Since mosquitoes can carry different diseases, it is wise to take precautions and practice good mosquito management as a general rule.

Advice for the Public
Most municipalities have a mosquito abatement program in place to minimize the local mosquito populations. These programs both control mosquitoes and monitor for diseases. Monitoring efforts look for disease trends and warn the public of risks in the area. Public and private management programs control mosquitoes through the use of materials directed at both the immature and adult stages of the mosquito.

To supplement private and public programs, residents can help by:

  • Eliminate areas of standing water around the home such as flowerpots, birdbaths, baby pools, grill covers and other objects where water collects. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water where the larvae develop and need only about 1/2 inch of water to breed. Frequent emptying of standing water can help insure that they cannot complete their life cycle.
  • Screen all windows and doors. Repair even the smallest tear or hole.
  • Minimize outside activity between dusk and dawn, when the majority of mosquitoes are most active.
  • If you must spend time outdoors during peak mosquito times, or when you will be outdoors for extended periods, wear long pants and sleeves and use an insect repellant containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon-eucalyptus.
  • It is especially important to wear effective insect repellents and protective clothing if traveling outside the U.S. Mosquito-borne diseases that may be rare in the U.S. are common in many foreign countries. Seek advice from physicians regarding what medications or additional precautions, especially if you are in a high risk group travelling to a country where diseases like chikungunya, malaria and Zika virus are active.
  • If you are concerned about mosquito activity on your property, contact a pest management company or your local health department.